Jonah 3
Pulpit Commentary
And the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the second time, saying,
Verses 1-10. - Part III. JONAH'S PREACHING IN NINEVEH; THE REPENTANCE OF THE NINEVITES. Verses 1-3. - § 1. Jonah is sent a second time to Nineveh, and obeys the command. Verse 1. - The second time. He is forgiven and restored to his office, and the commission formerly given is renewed. Commentators have supposed that he went up to Jerusalem to pay his vows, and that the word of the Lord came unto him there. But all unnecessary details are omitted from the account, and we know nothing about this matter. The beginning of the next verse, "arise," seems to imply that he was then in some settled home, perhaps at Gath-hepher.
Arise, go unto Nineveh, that great city, and preach unto it the preaching that I bid thee.
Verse 2. - That great city (see note on Jonah 1:2). Preaching; rendered "cry" in Jonah 1:2; Septuagint, κήρυγμα. This time the proclamation is unto it, as interested in the message, not "against it," as doomed to destruction (Pusey).
So Jonah arose, and went unto Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceeding great city of three days' journey.
Verse 3. - Arose, and went. He was now as prompt to obey as formerly to flee. Was; i.e. when Jonah visited it. Nothing can be argued from the past tense here as to the date of the composition of the book. It is a mere historical detail, and cannot be forced into a proof that Jonah wrote after the destruction of Nineveh. An exceeding great city; literally, a city great to God; πόλις μεγάλη τῷ Θεῷ (Septuagint); great before God - in his estimation, as though even God must acknowledge it. So Nimrod is called (Genesis 10:9) "a mighty hunter before the Lord;" and Moses, in Acts 7:20, is said to have been" beautiful to God." The expression may also mean that God (Elohim, God as Governor of the world) regarded this city with interest, as intended in the Divine counsels to perform an important part. For he is not the God of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles (Romans 3:29). Of three days' journey; i.e. in circumference - about sixty miles (see note on Jonah 1:2). Or the writer may mean that it took Jonah three days to visit the various quarters of this huge place. The area of the vast quadrangle containing the remains of the four cities comprised under the name Nineveh is estimated by Professor Rawlinson at two hundred and sixteen square miles. We ought, however, to omit Khorsabad from this computation, as it was not founded till Sargon's time, B.C. 710.
And Jonah began to enter into the city a day's journey, and he cried, and said, Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.
Verse 4. - § 2. Jonah, undeterred by the danger of the enterprise, executes his mission at one, and announces the approaching destruction of the city. Began to enter into the city a day's journey. Jonah commenced his day's journey in the city, and, as he found a suitable place, uttered his warning cry, not necessarily continuing in one straight course, but going to the most frequented spots. At the time of Jonah's preaching the royal residence was probably at Chalah: i.e. Nimrud, the most southern of the cities. Coming from Palestine, he would reach this part first, so that his strange message would soon come to the king's ears (ver. 6). Yet forty days. "Forty" in Scripture is the number of probation (see Genesis 7:4, 12; Exodus 24:18; 1 Kings 19:8; Matthew 4:2). The LXX. has, ἔτι τρεῖς ἡμέραι, "yet three days" owing probably to some clerical error, as writing γ instead of μ. St. Augustine ('De Civit.,' 18:44) endeavours to explain the discrepaney mystically as referring to Christ under different circumstances, as being the same who remained forty days on earth after his resurrection, and who rose again on the third day. Shall be overthrown. This is the word used for the destruction of Sodom (Genesis 19:25, 27; Amos 4:11). The prophet appears to have gone on through the city, repeating this one awful announcement, as we read of fanatics denouncing woe on Jerusalem before its final destruction (Josephus, 'Bell. Jud.,' 6:05. 3). The threat was conditional virtually, though expressed in uncompromising terms. In the Hebrew the participle is used, "Yet forty days, and Nineveh overthrown," as though he saw at the end of the specified time the great city lying in ruins. One sees from Isaiah 36:11, 13, that Jonah could readily be understood by the Assyrians.
So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them.
Verses 5-9. § 3. The Ninevites hearken to the cry of Jonah, believe in God, and repent. Verse 5. - Believed God; believed in God, which implies trust and hope; Vulgate, crediderunt in Deum. They recognized Jonah as God's messenger; they recognized God's power as able to execute the threat, and they had confidence in his mercy if they repented. This great result has seemed to some incredible, and has occasioned doubts to be east upon the history. But, as we have seen in the Introduction, Jonah's mission occurred probably at a time of national depression, when men's minds were disposed to expect calamity, and anxious to avert it by any means. Other considerations led to the same result. They had heard much of the God of the Hebrews, much of the doings of his great prophets Elijah and Elisha; and now they had in their midst one of these holy men, who, as they were informed, had been miraculously preserved from death in order to carry his message to them; for that it was thus that Jonah was "a sign unto the Ninevites" (Luke 11:30) seems most certain. They saw the Divine inspiration beaming in his look, dictating his utterance, animating his bearing, filling him with courage, confidence, and faith. The credulity with which they received the announcements of their own seers, their national predilection for presages and omens, encouraged them to open their ears to this stranger, and to regard his mission with grave attention. Their own conscience, too, was on the prophet's side, and assisted his words with its powerful pleading. So they believed in God, and proclaimed a fast. Spontaneously, without any special order from the authorities. Before the final fall of Nineveh, the inscriptions mention, the then king ordered a fast of one hundred days and nights to the gods in order to avert the threatened danger (see a note by Professor Sayce, in G. Smith's 'History of Babylon,' p. 156). Put on sackcloth (comp. Genesis 37:34; 1 Kings 21:27; Joel 1:13). The custom of changing the dress in token of mourning was not confined to the Hebrews (comp. Ezekiel 26:16).
For word came unto the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes.
Verse 6. - For word came; and the mater came; ἤγγισεν ὁ λόγος, "the word came near" (Septuagint). The tokens of penitence mentioned in ver. 5 were not exhibited in obedience to any royal command. Rather, as the impression made by the prophet spread among the people, and as they adopted these modes of showing their sorrow, the news of the movement reached the king, and he put himself at the head of it. The reigning monarch was probably either Shalmaneser III. or one of the two who succeeded him, Asshur-danil and Asshur-nirari, whose three reigns extended from B.C. 781 to 750. His robe (addereth); the word used for the "Babylonish garment" in Joshua 7:21. The magnificence of the Assyrian kings attire is attested by the monuments. Sat in ashes (comp. Job 2:8; Esther 4:3).
And he caused it to be proclaimed and published through Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste any thing: let them not feed, nor drink water:
Verse 7. - He caused it, etc.; literally, he caused proclamation to be made, and said, i.e. by the heralds. The decree. The word used here (taam) is an Accadian term, which had become naturalized in Assyria, Persia, and Babylonia, and was applied to a mandate issued with royal authority. It is found in Daniel 3:10, 29; Daniel 4:6; Ezra 4:8, etc. Jonah introduces it here as being the very word employed in describing the proclamation. And his nobles. The monarchs of Assyria were absolute; and if the king in the present case associated the magnates with himself, he did it in an humility occasioned by alarm, and because he saw that they were of the same mind as himself (comp. Daniel 6:17). Saying. The decree extends from here to the end of ver. 9. Man nor beast; i.e. domestic animals, horses, mules, distinct from herd and flock. These great cities contained in their area immense open spaces, like our parks, where cattle were kept. The dumb animals were made to share in their masters' fast and sorrow, as they shared their joy and feasting; their bleating and bellowing were so many appeals to Heaven for mercy; the punishment of these innocent creatures was a kind of atonement for the guilt of their lords (comp. Hosea 4:3; Joel 1:20; and note how the brute creation is said to sham in the happiness of paradise regained, Isaiah 11.). The commentators quote Virgil, 'Ecl.,' 5:24, etc., where, however, the point is that the grief of the shepherds hinders them from attending to the wants of their flocks. Herodotus (9:24) mentions an instance of the Persians cutting the manes and tails of their horses and mules in a case of general mourning (comp. Eurip., 'Alcest.,' 428, etc.; Plut., 'Alex.,' 72).
But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God: yea, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands.
Verse 8. - Let man and beast be covered with sackcloth. As we put trappings on horses in funerals. The LXX. wrongly makes this verse give an account of the execution of the edict instead of being part of the edict itself; thus: "And men and beasts were clothed with sackcloth," etc. Cry mightily; i.e. let man cry mightily; Septuagint, ἐκτενῶς, "with intensity;" Vulgate, in fortitudine. Let them turn every one from his evil way (Jeremiah 25:5; Jeremiah 36:3, 7). The edict recognizes the truth that outward acts of penitence are worthless without moral reformation - a truth which the Jews themselves had been very loth to admit (see Isaiah 58.). And from the violence that is in their hands. The acts of violence that their hands have committed (Job 16:17; Psalm 7:3). This is the special sin of the Assyrians, always grasping after empire, oppressing other nations, and guilty of rapine and avarice at home (see Isaiah 10:13, 14; Isaiah 37:24, etc.; Nahum 2:11, 12; Nahum 3:1).
Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not?
Verse 9. - Who can tell? (2 Samuel 12:22). An expression of hope that the Divine, wrath may be averted by the timely repentance. It is the same form of words as in Joel 2:14, "Perhaps God would thereby indicate that he had himself put it into their mouths" (Pusey; comp. Jeremiah 18:11). If God; i.e. the one God, whom the king and his people now acknowledge as supreme, like the idol worshippers at Carmel, when they fell on their faces, crying, "Jehovah, he is the God" (1 Kings 18:39).
And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not.
Verse 10. - § 4. God accepts this repentance, and the threatened destruction is averted. God saw their works. There is no notice in the inscriptions of this "repentance," or of any change in the polytheistic worship of the Ninevites. But the existing records of this period are singularly meagre, and show a state of calamity and depression, of internal commotions and famine. Nor is it usual in the monumental history to find mention of any events but wars and the execution of material works; moral reformations are not recorded. God repented of the evil (Exodus 32:14). This is an anthropopathical mode of speaking; God acted as if, taking man's view of the transaction, he repented. The sentence was conditional, as Jonah well knew (Jonah 4:2), in accordance with the great principle laid down in Jeremiah 18:7, etc., viz. that if a nation against which sentence is pronounced turn from its evil way, the sentence shall not be executed. God does not change, but he threatens that man may change (see note on Amos 7:3; and observe the same principle applied to individuals, Ezekiel 33:8, 13-16). He did it not. The evil day was postponed. This partial repentance, though it was not permanent and made little lasting impression on the national life, showed that there was some element of good in these Assyrians, and that they were not yet ripe for destruction. It has been considered to be a proof of the unhistorical character of the Book of Jonah that no mention of any of the incidents is made in the Books of Kings and Chronicles; but there is nothing strange in this. Those records never touch external politics except as closely connected with Israel's fortunes; and, derived as they were from national annals, it would have been unnatural for them to have narrated events happening so far away, and not likely to be introduced in the documents on which their history was founded.

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